Lead-Free Plumbing Solder: is it Greenie Garbage?

The Junk Drawer is for those Off Topical discussions where we can ask questions of the community that we feel might have the ability to help out.

Moderators: Harold_V, websterz

Post Reply
User avatar
SteveHGraham
Posts: 7761
Joined: Sat Jan 17, 2009 7:55 pm
Location: Florida

Lead-Free Plumbing Solder: is it Greenie Garbage?

Post by SteveHGraham » Thu Aug 08, 2019 4:56 pm

Today I decided to replace the washer in a hose bibb that would not quit leaking. Of course, the stem did not come out when I loosened the nut around it. There was a plate that still had to be removed, and of course, it was seized to the body of the bibb. Whoever installed this thing screwed brass into brass with nothing in between, making it physically impossible to open the bibb to replace washers.

I decided to man up and take the bibb off. I heated it with a MAPP torch and got it off. Even when I mounted the bibb in a vise, there was no way to break the plate loose. The installer rendered the bibb disposable by assuring that it would gall and seize.

I had never soldered plumbing before, but I figured I should man up. I got a new bibb. I almost got a tub of flux and a roll of solder, but then I thought, "How often will I be soldering pipes?" I went for the $3.99 kit with a tiny tube of flux and a little roll of lead-free solder.

I did everything the Youtube gurus say to do. I cleaned the metal until it shined, and I used lots of flux. Still, the joint looks really bad. It didn't flow and make a pretty joint. There are globs. I did the joint more than once, figuring it had to work right eventually. Because I had so little flux, I gave up even though it looked horrendous.

My question: was I stupid to get the lead-free solder? Greenies have a bug up their butt about nearly everything, and they really overreact to lead. No intelligent person believes that 0.2 grams of lead in a plumbing joint will hurt anyone. Is lead-free solder yet another lame greenie product, like ethanol, that makes life miserable without any redeeming benefit?
Every hard-fried egg began life sunny-side up.

John Hasler
Posts: 1271
Joined: Tue Dec 06, 2016 4:05 pm
Location: Elmwood, Wisconsin

Re: Lead-Free Plumbing Solder: is it Greenie Garbage?

Post by John Hasler » Thu Aug 08, 2019 7:25 pm

Lead-free plumbing solder is silver solder with the smallest possible amount of silver (to keep it cheap) and a few other low cost metals added to the tin. The supplied flux is probably something considered safe in California (and therefor useless). Treat the stuff like silver solder. Better yet, use real silver solder.

User avatar
rklopp
Posts: 18
Joined: Sat Jan 04, 2003 12:50 pm
Location: NorCal

Re: Lead-Free Plumbing Solder: is it Greenie Garbage?

Post by rklopp » Thu Aug 08, 2019 9:38 pm

Quit blaming it on the “greenies” and put the blame where it belongs. Lead is nasty stuff, especially for kids. Why purposefully put it out there if you don’t have to?

You likely either underheated or overheated you joint. Folks, including me, have soldered whole houses for years using lead-free solder, with great-looking, leak-free joints. My favorite is 95-5 tin-antimony solder. That alloy has a sharp melting point, so is easy to work, but the joints have to fit closely.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

User avatar
liveaboard
Posts: 825
Joined: Sun Dec 08, 2013 1:40 pm
Location: southern Portugal
Contact:

Re: Lead-Free Plumbing Solder: is it Greenie Garbage?

Post by liveaboard » Fri Aug 09, 2019 3:21 am

I've been using 'silver' plumbing solder for decades; the only gripe I've had with it is that it cost more. I have no idea how much silver in in there, and the label fell off the roll 15 years ago.
with the right flux, it will stick to some stainless steels. This can be handy.

It's pretty rare to solder any plumbing these days. I soldered two brass parts together last week. not a work of art but it serves my purpose.
water temperature sensor installed.jpg

Jawn
Posts: 282
Joined: Wed Apr 09, 2014 12:39 pm
Location: Canton, GA

Re: Lead-Free Plumbing Solder: is it Greenie Garbage?

Post by Jawn » Fri Aug 09, 2019 7:22 am

I'm a bit surprised by this, I recently had to replace a leaky tee in my plumbing and found it pretty easy to do. My technique was torch on the pipe for a few seconds, then feed solder to the pipe on both sides of the top of the joint so it runs down the sides and wicks into the joint.

Nine joints (cut out a section of pipe each side of the tee... so 3 couplings plus the tee itself), first time ever soldering pipe and it went well with no leaks. Bit lumpy from excess solder dripping off but it seems to have filled the joint fine.

earlgo
Posts: 1441
Joined: Sat Jan 29, 2011 11:38 am
Location: NE Ohio

Re: Lead-Free Plumbing Solder: is it Greenie Garbage?

Post by earlgo » Fri Aug 09, 2019 8:43 am

Another method is to clean, flux, and tin all contacting surfaces. By tinning is meant running solder over the surfaces and then wiping off all you can with a rag or towel or something. The point is to get a surface completely covered in a thin solder coat. This means inside the fitting/valve and outside the tube. Then slide the joint together and heat until the solder you are feeding in just flows in. (Almost) guarantees a good joint every time.
Another option is to use Shark Bite fittings.
I had a similar issue with a valve except this one leaked thru the little drain bib on the side of the valve. Cut it out and replaced it with a Shark Bite 1/4 turn ball valve. Done.
--earlgo
Before you do anything, you must do something else first. - Washington's principle.

User avatar
SteveHGraham
Posts: 7761
Joined: Sat Jan 17, 2009 7:55 pm
Location: Florida

Re: Lead-Free Plumbing Solder: is it Greenie Garbage?

Post by SteveHGraham » Fri Aug 09, 2019 8:58 am

I looked around the web and learned that lead-free solder is, in fact, a problem. I already knew it was bad for electronics, but it appears that it's also difficult to use for plumbing joints.

It seems a lot like ethanol, curly fluorescents, and brown paper grocery bags. A bad solution people people are reluctant to discuss honestly because of the green religion. Apparently, you buy the worthless stuff once because you wrongly assume the industry has sane standards, and then you have to find someone to tell what actually works.

I'm sure it's dandy for people who do plumbing for a living and get several hours of practice per day. That isn't me. I'm a homeowner who was desperately trying to close up one joint so he could turn his water back on before going to bed.

I don't mind spending money on the best solder and flux, because I will use so little. If I have to solder any more joints, I'm going to research and find the best products available.

Now I think I'll drive to the dump and drop off a lot of handy, once-used plastic grocery bags, which are still legal here.
Every hard-fried egg began life sunny-side up.

b4autodark
Posts: 47
Joined: Fri Dec 16, 2016 9:06 am

Re: Lead-Free Plumbing Solder: is it Greenie Garbage?

Post by b4autodark » Thu Aug 15, 2019 8:09 am

I've been a plumber (retired now) since 1972. When I first started in the trade we used lead based solder for domestic water piping installations. When lead free solder came in to play the learning curve was about two solder joints. My point is if you couldn't do it with lead free solder, you couldn't have done it with lead based solder either.

Soldering pipes isn't that hard, if it globbed up on you it was because you probably had a little water in the pipe that flashed to steam when you put the heat to it. The biggest mistake rookies make it overheating the joint and burning the flux out of it.

No skill methods of joining pipe (shark bite) were invented for home owners and are usually inferior methods and will fail long before a solder joint.

I would just pack it in and sell out as the "Greenies" predict Florida will be under water soon anyway.

User avatar
SteveHGraham
Posts: 7761
Joined: Sat Jan 17, 2009 7:55 pm
Location: Florida

Re: Lead-Free Plumbing Solder: is it Greenie Garbage?

Post by SteveHGraham » Thu Aug 15, 2019 10:30 am

I'm looking at properties in Tennessee already. Don't know whether they'll have copper plumbing, however.

It would be a blessing to the world if certain areas of Florida sank into the ocean, but I don't think it will happen.

Maybe I'll just keep moving to stay ahead of ridiculous plastic straw bans.
Every hard-fried egg began life sunny-side up.

Post Reply